Girl Scouts Look Back 110 Years: 1950s

Pages from GSL 1950 10 October
National Volunteer Mary H.S. Hayes with Congressional Charter (Leader October 1950)

The Girl Scouts received a Congressional charter in 1950 and a new name. “Girl Scouts of the United States of America” replaced the “Girl Scouts, Inc.” that had been used since 1915.

Girl Scouting thrived in the 1950s as the post-war Baby Boom meant millions of girls wanting to join. Membership grew from 630,000 in 1940 to 1 million in 1950.

Increasing demand for opportunities led to new programs. GSUSA launched the Green Umbrella campaign to consolidate councils, bring lone troops into the council structure, and streamline program delivery. Officials emphasized the new opportunities that would result, such as additional camp properties and better collaboration among Senior Girl Scout troops.

Three girls in Girl Scout uniforms huddle under a green umbrella
Green Umbrella program patch

GSUSA developed new, narrowly focused programs that would make teen girls want to stay in Girl Scouts, especially the Senior Roundups. (Problems with retaining older girls? Some things never change.)

GSUSA responded to the enormous social changes that accompanied the emerging Cold War and defense buildup. One initiative focused on my hometown, Paducah, Kentucky, and the massive influx of families (and daughters) to work at a new plutonium processing facility.

There were some councils, mainly in the south, that still practiced segregation. But by the 1950s, many began to reconsider their policies and could no longer reconcile segregation with “For All Girls.”

History by Decade 1950s
History by Decade 1950s

in 1955, the Girl Scouts of Washington DC and Montgomery County, Maryland*, desegregated their flagship outdoor property, Camp May Flather, located in the Shenandoah Mountains of Virginia.

Camp May Flather’s desegregation came one year after the US Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, decision. It would take another four years before Virginia began to desegregate its public school system.

*The current Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital did not exist before 1963. Instead, the Washington area was dotted with smaller councils, with (almost) each county having its own.

©2022 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Clara Lisetor-Lane and the Girl Scouts of America

Please, never, ever, say “Girl Scouts of America” in front of me. Just don’t.

Why? BECAUSE IT IS WRONG. It falls on my editor-ears like nails on a blackboard.

I am a proud, lifetime member of the Girl Scouts of the USA, not some rogue “Girl Scouts of America” group. If you want to be ultra correct, it is Girl Scouts of the United States of America. That is the name printed on our Congressional Charter.

Cover of Leader Magazine, October 1950

Prior to that document, the formal name was “Girl Scouts, Inc.” That name was used when the movement incorporated in Washington, DC, in 1915. That’s how it appeared on early versions of the Girl Scout Constitution and By-Laws. That’s how it appeared on letterhead.

Letterhead from 1944

Actually some letterhead from the 1940s uses “GSUSA.” Perhaps that was purchased in advance of the charter announcement?

Please, be accurate. You’d get testy too if someone constantly got your name wrong.

But there’s another, even more important reason. There really was an actual “Girl Scouts of America.”

Journalist Clara Lisetor-Lane insisted that she had created the “Girl Scouts of America” in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1910; two years before Juliette Gordon Low’s first troop in Savannah.

Lisetor-Lane seemed to prefer working on publicity rather than recruitment. Newspapers of the era report her arrival in towns to organize troops, but no membership numbers were given.

Her program would encourage housekeeping and the outdoors. But some behavior was decidedly not for her Girl Scouts:

Sacramento Star, August 11, 1911.

In June 1911, her Girl Scouts of America, a few self-described “Girl Guides” and the Camp Fire Girls merged to become “Girl Pioneers of America.” The thoroughness of that merger is unclear; reports of the component organizations continued into 1912.

Excerpt from Chicago Tribune, April 29, 1924

Lisetor-Lane eventually took up other causes. She founded “Crusaders for Decency,” group that promoted “clean literature and films.”

But she never renounced her claim to starting the Girl Scouts.

Lisetor-Lane even crashed the 1924 Girl Scout national convention and challenged Low to met with her. (She didn’t.)

Lisetor-Lane went to her grave in 1960 insisting that Juliette Gordon Low had stolen her idea.

When the Girl Scouts of the USA celebrated its 50th birthday in 1962, the story of Clara Lisetor-Lane was revived in her home town. A few former members came forward and a Des Moines Register article was picked up by other newspapers.

Although Clara certainly would have been pleased by the renewed interest in her organization, I can only imagine her horror if she had seen how it appeared in the Moline, IL, Dispatch.

©2022 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

Surviving the Big Trip

Many Girl Scout troops spend several years working toward a “Big Trip.”

Often it is to one of the World Centers, located in London, Switzerland, Mexico, and India. Perhaps the destination is New York City, Washington DC, or Savannah, Georgia.

The Trip guides badgework, fundraising, camping and field trips that gradually build skills and cooperative behavior.

Planning a Big Trip to Washington DC, from Rockwood Film Strip

For the troop leaders, excitement is tempered by anxiety. How do you take twenty or so girls to the other side of the country; or the world?

(Plus, Girl Scout regulations specify that you must bring home the same number of girls that departed with you. Same number, I suppose you could swap some girls. Or at least threaten to.)

But relax, other volunteers and staff members will help you prepare the girls and yourself. At one time, trip plans had to be approved by the local Girl Scout council.

The Big Trip will make memories that last a lifetime, most of them good!

So, in a belated nod to Leader Appreciation Day, here is 1955 poem composed by a New York leader who took 64 seventh graders on a three-day trip to Washington, DC. And she survived!

Washington 1955 (Leaders’ Ditty)

Washington when Spring is here, to some may seem to be
A gay time, a play time, a time that’s fancy free.

With the blossoms and the buildings and the beauty of the city
To wander o’er and ponder o’er; and it really seems a pity

Or so you’d think, to have to steer wherever you may go
A gaggle of, or straggle of, Girl Scouts both fast and slow.

How very wrong such thoughts would be, the girls add to the fun,
But have no doubts, 64 Girl Scouts can keep you on the run.

They lose their buddies, sing strange songs and roam far and near
And history is a mystery to most of them I fear.

Senior Girl Scouts at Mt. Vernon, from Rockwood filmstrip

They stroll around Mount Vernon, while you revel in it too,
The FBI stands way high in their list of things to view.

Memorials and monuments and museums, where they see
Two-headed babies, gems of rubies – strange things you will agree.

But those they rank as equal to the homes of famous men,
Or the Capitol. They lap it all up – want to go again.

But see these green-clad forms stand still when the Guard is changing o’er
Way, that’s a sound of girls you’re proud of, now and evermore.

And though they give you headaches, if you’re honest, you must say
You’re glad you went, not sad you went, and you loved just every day.

Heading Home, 1950s (Rockwood Collection)

©2022 Ann Robertson, writer, editor, and Girl Scout historian

The Girl Advisory Committee: Girl-led in Action

After GSUSA asked councils to carry out special “Youth Serve Youth” service projects ahead of our 50th anniversary in 1962, they selected a 12-member Girl Advisory Committee to review the submissions and prepare a report for Congress.

Knowing that the Girl Scout program must always be sensitive to the contemporary needs and interests of girls, the national organization uses its Girl Advisory Committee to bring grassroots reactions to activities and events as a direct line from the girls themselves.

Register-Guard, Eugene OR (November 3, 1961): 7A.

Girl Scouts were asked to study youth in their communities and identify areas where they could help. Thousands of projects were carried out. Troops in Wisconsin’s Riverland Council pledged to make 1,000 dolls for less-fortunate families. Public safety was the focus in Asheville, NC, where Pisgah GS Council created emergency game kits for children aged 3-12. The kits taught civil defense lessons and were placed in disaster shelters. Troops in Tumbleweed Council in Kansas “adopted” two dozen girls at Parsons State Hospital, providing “useful items” and writing letters. Councils reported their projects to the national headquarters in late 1961.

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Lady B-P (right) with (maybe) Larie Blohm of Oregon.

On March 5, 1962, the national Girl Advisory Committee convened at Rockwood National Camp outside of Washington DC. The Committee was comprised of 12 girls, one selected from each administrative region of the country.

I’ve been able to identify seven of the dozen girls:

  1. Rea Ann Scoville (Portage, IN)
  2. Cheryle Bremer, (Cannon Falls, MN)
  3. Diane Young (Houston, TX)
  4. Larie Blohm (Eugene, OR)
  5. Rebecca Gainey (Charlotte, NC)
  6. Virginia Anne Meeker (NY)
  7. Anita Beth Cutler (MA)

The girls were given a daunting task: to review the submissions, select representative projects, then write and deliver a presentation on Capitol Hill, on March 12, the 50th birthday of the movement.

Between their work sessions, the girls enjoyed sightseeing in Washington and hiking to Great Falls, about a mile from Rockwood. They also attended the national 50th anniversary celebration in Washington and met World Chief Guide Olave Baden Powell.

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Members of the 1962 Girls Advisory Committee pose with Lady Baden Powell, Rockwood (GSCNC Archives)

On the morning of March 12, the girls traveled to Capitol Hill, where luncheon was scheduled for 12:30 pm in Room 1302 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. They were joined by 200 guests, including Senators, Representatives, and their Girl Scout wives, daughters, nieces, and granddaughters.

1962-stamp
1962 Postage Stamp, from Postal Museum

Other dignitaries included Vice President Lyndon Johnson, Lady Bird Johnson, GSUSA President Marjorie Culmer, and Postmaster General J. Edward Day, who announced a new stamp to commemorate the anniversary.

The vice president called on the Girl Scouts to promote citizenship during their next 50 years. He warned that too many Americans avoided learning about their government because they believe “politics are dirty business.”

[The Girl Scouts should] put increasing emphasis on encouraging our young people to learn everything they can about their Government at all levels….I feel sure the culture will belong to the free, the educated and to those who care, those who want to help, those who feel a responsibility for doing their share.

–Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson

The Committee selected Scoville, Bremer and Young to present their findings.  The three 17 year-olds addressed the distinguished guests with ease, poise, and confidence. While they spoke, reported the Washington Post, the Vice President hand wrote gold-edged Senate gallery passes for the girls.

Luncheon concluded with a round of “Happy Birthday” led by Lady Bird Johnson, and everyone blew out candles on the three-tier cake or individual cupcakes.

Reviewing the event for the October 1962  issue of Leader magazine, national Program Department staffer Marian F. Wells reflected on the process she had witnessed at Rockwood. She praised the girls for their maturity, organization, cooperation, and collaborative approach. National staff were present, but generally unneeded. “The most remarkable thing about the 1962 GAC,” she wrote, “was not that it had an important job to do in connection with our Fiftieth Anniversary; but that, having been given the responsibility, the girls were allowed to carry it out.”

Is it possible that in an organization dedicated to the encouragement of girl initiative, we sometimes stifle it instead? Do we, too often, short-change our Senior Scouts by failing to recognize their capabilities; by doing for them instead of helping them to do for themselves; and by overlooking the fact that, although teenagers don’t have all the answers, they frequently have ideas that are worth listening to? If this is the case, the time has come for more than Program Change! We need to change our attitude toward girls as well, or the basic premise of Girl Scouting–that girls govern their own troops and manage their own affairs under adult guidance–will be nothing but an empty phrase.

–Marian F. Weller, GSUSA Program Department

50th-cake

 

©2016 Ann Robertson